How Different is Chinese Medicine from Western Medicine?

chinese medicine

Chinese medicine

As a Chinese medicine practitioner, I often see patients who had been treated by western medicine previously, usually for years, but received little or no success in treating their illnesses.  Many people who had been helped by Chinese medicine or saw others did became “devout converts”, and vowed to never return to western medicine anymore.

Being trained both in western and eastern medicine, and having practiced almost all my entire adulthood life in the field of medicine, I would like to share my views on the differences between Chinese and Western medicine.

Both Chinese medicine and Western medicine are health care treasures based upon many years of clinical experiences and researches. In my view, these two schools of medicine are perfect complement, with neither dominating the other.  Let me explain.

Chinese medicine, also known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is the oldest continuously practiced medicine in the world. A wealth of wisdom and experiences have been developed from over 2,000 years of practice and clinical observation.  Chinese medicine uses an unique theory to explain the physiological and pathological changes that take place within our bodies. The terminology and concepts in Chinese medicine like “Yin”, “Yang”, “Qi” and “meridians” are now more familiar to many westerners. These are the primary concepts that are used in Chinese medicine.  They describe the flow of energy within the boy.  According to the theory, the fundamental principle of health is the harmony of the body, and the balance of “Yin” and “Yang”. Niether “Yin” nor “Yang” is strictly good or bad by itself. However, it is the imbalance between the two that causes pain and illness. The goal of Chinese medicine is to achieve the harmony between the body and environment.

Chinese have used acupuncture and herbs to restore the balance and to “wake up” the body.  These techniques not only treat illnesses but also promote overall health.  I have some patients who initially came for the treatment for pain.  Usually after treatment only the pain is gone, they felt more energetic.  This is because we are not just working on an isolated problem, but on the entire body.Clinically, Chinese medicine pays more attention to the whole picture of the body’s condition, including the state of the mind and environmental influences. Information is collected from patients and specific diagnostic methods are employed to differentiate each patient.  

Western medicine is mainly based on the understanding of bio chemical interactions within the body. It is the product of the development of modern science and technology over the past hundred years.  Compared to Chinese medicine, which is more suitable for many chronic, functional disorders and conditions, Western medicine is more effective in dealing with organic diseases, acute and emergency conditions. It is also good at finding the specific origins of conditions by using laboratory tests and medical images like X-ray and MRI. Chemical drugs are powerful but often have more side effects. In many cases, Chinese medicine and Western medicine can work together to obtain the greatest benefits and the lease adverse effect profiles.

So in a nutshell, I believe acupuncture and herbal medicine can play a special role complementing modern western medicine. Some problems which cannot be treated easily using western techniques can be very effectively alleviated with traditional oriental techniques.


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